Tea party movement shouldn’t focus only on fiscal conservatism

The Tea Party movement and its grassroots political activists are defined by loyalty to the U.S. Constitution, limited government and individual liberty–not social issues such as abortion. That’s what one analyst argued at a gathering of conservatives in Washington on Wednesday.

Journalist and author Jonah Goldberg said the movement should avoid cultural issues such as abortion if it is to have continued success.

A conservative congressman, however, disagreed.

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), the chairman of the House Republican Conference, said people are also drawn to the Tea Party movement because it embraces traditional American morality, including the sanctity of life and the traditional definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

“One last thought to leave you with,” Pence said in his concluding remarks:  “This is something I’ve said around the country at many Tea Party gatherings and grassroots gatherings. And it needs to be said, and that is, that what’s animating this authentic American movement is that our present crisis is not just economic and fiscal. It’s moral in nature.”

“At the root of these times, I believe there are millions of Americans who see, in Washington, D.C., and on Wall Street, people in positions of authority walking away from the timeless principles of honesty, integrity, an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay,” Pence said.

“I’ve talked to people in this movement that our leaders need to recognize that public policy alone will not cure what ails this country,” Pence said. “It’s going to take public virtue and a return to the institutions that nourish the character of the nation and reaffirm our commitment to the sanctity of life, the sanctity of traditional marriage and to the importance of religion in everyday life is also quietly central to this movement around the country.”

Pence and Goldberg were part of a panel at the annual Bradley Symposium, hosted by the Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal and National Affairs. Former House Majority Leader and founder of Freedom Works, Dick Armey (R-Texas), and Washington Examiner political columnist, Michael Barone, were also on the panel, which was moderated by William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard.

“So long as the Tea Party Movement stays disciplined to what it claims are its actual principles–as long as they stay true to all that and don’t get distracted by the left or by the right,” Goldberg said. “There are a lot of people on the right who want the Tea Party to become the fighting wedge for pro-life causes. There are a lot of Libertarians who want to take drug legalization and all the rest. I think that would be a disaster.”

Goldberg said the movement should stick to constitutional issues. ‘I celebrate it, and hope it can stay true to      cause,” Goldberg said.

According to Pence, the movement is about “going back to the source of our greatness, which is our character, our faith, our belief in limited government.” 

The Tea Party movement emerged during the first year of the Obama Administration by way of grassroots rallies around the country and in the nation’s capital. Party supporters opposed the Obama Administration’s economic stimulus, federal bailouts and health care reform, which marked one of the largest expansions of the federal government in U.S. history.

Critics have charged that the movement is an artificial “Astroturf” movement created by conservative activists as a way of undermining President Barack Obama and his mandate for change.

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